The last place I expected to see an armillary sphere was at Harbour Town on Queensland’s Gold Coast. It just proves they make great decorative additions to almost any situation. The image of an armillary sphere represented the height of wisdom and knowledge during the Renaissance and it still carries that legacy today.
The word armillary is derived from the Latin armillae meaning a bracelet. The sphere is made up of several concentric rings (or bracelets) set inside one another which collectively represent an Earth centred view of the celestial sphere.
Armillary spheres were developed by the Greeks and were used as teaching aids to help visualise the movement of stars and planets in the heavens as early as the 3rd century BCE. Larger and more precise machines were also used as observational instruments. The Chinese had also developed simple devices as early as 4th century BCE. These developed in style and complexity over the ensuing centuries culminating in the construction of the Honcheonsigye armillary in 1433. This is the only astronomical clock from the Joseon Dynasty in existence today.
The Persians and Arabs improved even more on the armillary and developed other astronomical instruments such as the astrolabe. More refinements occurred during the Renaissance particularly by Tycho Brahe (1546-1601).
Harbour Town armillary sphere
The armillary sphere at Harbour Town on Queensland’s Gold Coast is a major sculptural element within the complex. It is set on a column in the middle of a compass laid out on the ground which is divided into 360 degrees. On this are indicated directions and distances to major cities around the world. It has quite a “Hard Rock Cafe” feel to it with the word LANE in prominent orbit around the outer sphere.
The sphere is inaccurate as the rings representing the polar circles and circles of the tropics are all equidistant from the equator ring when they should be 23.5 degrees from the poles and equator respectively.